Last week, Orlando City announced that its developmental team, Orlando City B, would play its 2020 USL League One season at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL. Considering that the team only played at its 2019 location for one season, this might have surprised some people. However, this move makes sense given the purpose and makeup of the side.
OCB was launched in 2015 and played its first season in 2016. The first two seasons of the team’s history were to provide playing time for first team players who were not receiving minutes, allow players returning from injury to gain match fitness, and to develop young players. The only player on that team that came out of the academy, and was not on an academy contract, was midfielder Pierre Da Silva. The remainder of the roster was made up of career USL players.
As renting Camping World Stadium was quite expensive, the team spent its first year at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. With the opening of the club’s new stadium in 2017, the team moved to downtown Orlando, allowing the Young Lions to avoid the hour-long bus ride. The 2018 season saw OCB take a break as it waited for the new third division USL League One to start. The team started back up in 2019 with a new focus on development.
When OCB returned this year, the club’s youth setup had changed dramatically. The development academy moved to Montverde Academy, where it was run by SIMA Director Mike Potempa. With the academy already located at the school, it was logical for OCB to be at the same location. This was especially important because several of the players joining OCB were teenagers from the academy.
There will be some big changes to OCB in 2020, but the team’s purpose will remain the same. The staff for OCB was set up by Potempa. After the staff was put together, Luiz Muzzi was named Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations. His role was to oversee every aspect of the club, including the development academy and OCB.
When Muzzi first joined the club, he stated that OCB’s purpose is to develop players for the first team. Any movement in the development ladder was to be upward, so no players from the first team would move to OCB. That purpose for OCB has not changed.
There were good and bad things that came from OCB playing at Montverde Academy. The school allowed all players to live where they trained and played. That’s very beneficial when you have a team with many players who are too young to travel long distances each day. It also provided more training time as the younger players were educated at the facility.
The problem with playing at Montverde Academy was its distance from the first team. If the head coach of the first team wanted to have a look at an OCB or academy player, it was a logistical nightmare. It also made it difficult for the club’s trainers to keep an eye on the health of the players. The upcoming move changes all of that.
In 2020, OCB and the club’s academy will move to Kissimmee with the first team so that everyone is under one roof. If Orlando City’s new coach wants to have an OCB player train with the first team, it will be an easy process.
The club’s new training facility is right next to Osceola County Stadium, where OCB will play in 2020. This past season, OCB had nine players from the club’s academy. You can expect that number to rise as the club puts more of an emphasis on developing Homegrown talent.
One issue still to resolve is housing and educating the players. At Montverde Academy, the players lived together and were educated on site. While they may not be educated at the facility, having them nearby will be beneficial.
“We live together, we eat together, we practice together, we are a family here,” OCB midfielder Thiago Souza said about the team’s setup at Montverde Academy. “So once we go on the field, it’s become easy for us to play soccer because we know each other. We know where people are going to go, know what people are doing.”
Keeping this family environment was key to the OCB players fighting until the end of the season. OCB vice captain Koby Osei-Wusu said the family environment created more love between the players and their love for the club. Continuing to work hard despite difficult results is key in the development of the young academy products.
Another important reason why playing at Osceola County Stadium is beneficial is the ability for the coaching staff to see each game. When the team played in Melbourne, the first team staff only made it to two games. It was the same this year as James O’Connor made it to the team’s first game and again against the Richmond Kickers. The latter seemed mainly to be so he could watch and heckle his former Orlando City teammate and Kickers striker Dennis Chin.
The lack of appearances wasn’t a lack of interest, but rather the difficulty getting to the academy from the first team training facility. With the team playing its home games at the training facility, Muzzi and the first team coaching staff will see many more games as it’s a common location they might already be at that day.
Seeing the players play live will allow the staff to determine who is ready to make the jump to the first team. Before the season, Muzzi said any year an OCB player doesn’t sign to the first team is considered a failure. While it’s not guaranteed that playing at Osceola County Stadium will result in more Homegrown Player signings, it’ll allow the club to be more informed on those decisions.
For the first time since joining MLS, Orlando City, OCB, and the development academy will be at the same location. This puts the club in the best position to develop Homegrown talent for the first team. For a small market club in MLS, that’s essential for future success.